The Other Columbus: An Amy Cooper 911 Choose Your Own Adventure
WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS COLUMN STRAIGHT THROUGH! You get to decide the outcome of the story based on your decisions. Start at #1 and proceed from there!
You are walking your dog, Henry, in a park. It’s a beautiful day, and not many people are around. The birds are out in full force, each seemingly singing just for you. It is a morning portending ripe possibilities. After a while, Henry makes it clear he needs to run around a bit. You find yourself in a part of the park where a sign clearly states that dogs must remain on leashes in that area. Henry is really chomping at the bit.
If you take him off leash, proceed to 2
If you keep him on leash, jump to 10
You take Henry’s leash off, watching as he rolls around in the brush and chases after random objects. Before long, a black man happens to be walking by and mentions that your dog is supposed to be leashed in that area. The binoculars around his neck mark him for a birder.
If you leash Henry in response, proceed to 3
If you don’t, jump to 4
You half-heartedly thank the birder, saying, “You know how handling a dog can get.” The birder says something about dogs tearing up the landscape and ruining the birdwatching ecosystem or something. You don’t really care, but it’s okay because he’s not trying to educate you. He’s just expressing that he’s not coming from a hall monitor place. You’ll be just fine never seeing him again, and it’s clear he feels the same way. You both go your separate ways. No harm, no foul.
Why should you have to do what some random black birder says? You aren’t without power here. You have rights. You have freedoms. Who is he to tell you what to do with your dog? You tell him to mind his own business. He pulls out his phone and begins recording you. You tell him to stop. He says, “Not until you’ve stopped breaking the rule.”
If you leash Henry now, go to 3
If you don’t, proceed to 5
You decide to show this black birder who’s boss. You’re an important person in your non-dog walking life. You don’t know anything about this man, and he certainly doesn’t get who you are. You step to him, dragging Henry in the air by his neck, demanding that the man stop recording. He twice asks you to please stop approaching him. You warn him you’re going to call the police on him and tell them, very specifically, that you and your dog are being threatened by an African American man in the park. The same park where, in 1989, five young black teenagers were accused of assaulting and raping a white jogger (the convictions were overturned and the charges vacated after another man was identified as the rapist in 2002). The police will certainly remember THAT. They get lots of stories about black people in that park. They’ll come loaded for bear if they know this birder is a threat and black.
If you dial 911, proceed to 6
If you realize your threat isn’t working, jump to 9
You dial 911. You calmly inform the dispatcher that you are being threatened by an “African American man.” The dispatcher, following protocol, begins to quiz you about the situation. It is clear they aren’t taking you seriously enough, or at least not at the speed with which you need to make the sternest impression.
If you amplify your performance on the phone, proceed to 7
If you decide to cancel the call, jump to 8
No one appears to be taking you seriously. You’re an American white woman of privilege. You’re not used to people standing up to you or not doing what they’re told, especially after you’ve threatened them. Fortunately, you live in America. You know just what to do. You turn on the water works, raising your voice as if you might actually be under attack by a black man. You know that will get the cops going for sure. You hang up the phone, sending the message that perhaps you were cut off. As you do so, the black birder says, “Thank you,” and walks away. Having gotten your way, you walk off, too. It’s not the morning you would have preferred, but you feel confident that you’ve shown him who’s boss. You leave the park and head home. Later that day you log on to social media to see what’s going on in the world. It is only in that moment, watching the black birder’s video online, that you realize that you were dragging Henry through the air by the collar, choking him the whole time. Less than 24 hours later you have to change your resume.
You get off the phone before things get worse. The black birder still seems oddly content with that exchange, which doesn’t raise a red flag for you at the time. You decide you’ve had enough excitement for the morning and leave the park. When you get home, you forget about the park and the black birder. You do a few chores around the house and then decide to log into social media. You then learn what “weaponizing” means. You lock down your Instagram account and Henry’s, as well. Then the phone rings. It’s your boss. You get to “stay at home” even longer than you thought.
You realize the black birder isn’t going to stop recording until you concede to the rule you’ve broken. He’s basically caught you red-handed breaking a park rule, so what’s left? Getting dragged on Twitter? Becoming famous for all the wrong reasons? You’re the VP of a very important company. You can’t afford that kind of attention. You decide to put the leash on Henry, but not without offering some choice words to the black birder. The black birder says, “Thank you,” and walks away. You hate that you had to give in, but who needs that kind of grief? Henry pees on the sidewalk for good measure. A rough start to the day, but nothing a solid Frappuccino won’t fix.
Henry gets a little wild, but he’s small and you’re trying to be a mindful pet owner and citizen. You keep him on leash, eventually cajoling him to a part of the park that’s more open and less wild. The sun is brilliant that morning, casting crystal rainbows off of the nearby pond. In the distance you see the birders and joggers out, alternating between a parade of slow and quick floats. Everyone is enjoying the park in their own way, and the sun paints everything in glistening chartreuse and shamrock. Everything seems more vibrant this morning. You and Henry leave the park. Everyone is still alive.